Tifton Lab’s rural outreach program wins STEM award

By Amy H. Carter

Program introduces students to careers in Vet Med

Pictured above: Hemant Naikare, director of the TVDIL, leads a discussion in the microbiology lab with students from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

The Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory won the 2023 Programs in STEM Award for its career education outreach to high school and college students in rural South Georgia. Given by Insight Into Diversity Magazine, the award recognizes institutions and organizations that improve access to STEM fields among underrepresented groups and inspire younger generations to consider STEM careers.

The lab won for its Multi-Institutional Exploratory Academy in Rural Georgia: Attracting next generation to veterinary medicine, One Health and STEM emphasizing laboratory diagnostics. The academy is the first laboratory-centered pilot instructional model for students in rural Georgia. It was initiated with funding from the University of Georgia’s Office of Institutional Diversity.

Students attend full-day workshops and participate in two-to-eight weeks of competitive paid internships to gain exposure to STEM careers in animal, human, public health, and veterinary medicine. An emphasis is placed on laboratory diagnostics.

The lab established a collaborative network with Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Fort Valley State University, Savannah State University, Valdosta State University, and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. More than 150 undergraduate students have participated in lab-hosted workshops since 2018. More than 100 students from high school 4-H programs administered by UGA Extension have participated in three annual career day events.

The TVDIL has also partnered with ABAC on a USDA-NLGCA funded grant “Southwest Georgia Veterinary Medicine Candidate and Growth Capacity Building Program.”

“We expect to reach more than 300 students in the next three years through these grants and to create opportunities for students from rural communities and historically black colleges and universities,” said Hemant Naikare, director of the Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory.

“This program focuses on underrepresented students from rural areas, students that are first-generation college attendees, and students that come from socioeconomically challenged backgrounds. There are very few students from rural areas of Georgia applying to veterinary college. There is also a poor return of graduating veterinarians to rural practice, leaving those areas in great need of veterinary practitioners.”

Dean Nolan agreed and added, “We are proud of our TVDIL team. They don’t just worry about a problem, they use their time and talents to solve it, and in so doing, make a positive difference in the lives of their students and stakeholders.”

Naikare said the program has already proven its impact as UGA CVM has seen an increase in applications from ABAC students in the last three years. Applications have grown from four in academic year 2020-2021 to 21 in the 2022-2023 academic year.

“This proves our hypothesis that giving students a hands-on opportunity to explore STEM careers will shape their futures in the field,” Naikare said.

“Programs like this are wonderful ways to engage students from rural Georgia and show them various career opportunities available in the veterinary profession,” said Susan Williams, interim assistant dean for diversity and inclusion at the CVM. “The increase in DVM applications from South Georgia indicates the desire is there and that the opportunity for experiential learning is helping to get those students who otherwise may not have thought they could succeed in the veterinary profession to apply to UGA CVM.”

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